BEACON PHOTO/ELI WITEK THE LAKE HELEN DIFFERENCE — At a meeting of the Lake Helen City Commission earlier this year, commissioners select their new city administrator. Lee Evett, center in front of the dais, got the job. From left on the dais are Commissioners Kelly Frasca and Roger Eckert, Mayor Daisy Raisler, Commissioner Rick Basso and Vice Mayor Jim Connell. The City Commission meets in the former auditorium of a renovated historic schoolhouse.

Lake Helen has a completely charming, if occasionally stressful, way of derailing their City Commission meeting agendas, despite all best efforts.

In DeLand, the retirement of a government employee is marked by a brief ceremony and a photo opportunity.

In Lake Helen, the retirement of police Chief Mike Walker was recognized with a brief ceremony, a photo opportunity, and then a blowup over use of a baseball field, which led to the angry departure of a member of the Parks and Playground Review Committee.

In other cities, the city manager is authorized to hire and fire employees — in Lake Helen, the City Commission reviews all new hires, and must vote on any employee’s pay raise.

As the city administrator recently requested approval to hire two new employees for Lake Helen City Hall — which is currently staffed by one full-time worker and one part-time worker, along with the city administrator — the City Commission also learned that the city had not successfully completed a bank reconciliation in half a year.

In nearby towns, matters regarding the Historic Preservation Board rarely come before the City Commission or City Council.

In Lake Helen, the commission pores over each Certificate of Appropriateness for things like a new fence, and the size and position of a shed. Recently, the president of the Historic Preservation Board formally addressed city commissioners about the “toxic air” and offensive narrative given about the board at a recent workshop.

In other cities, an agreement with a nonprofit organization is on the consent agenda and typically approved with no discussion. In Lake Helen, a nonsensical argument over whether a nonprofit is technically a 501(c)(3) — because a letter from the IRS hadn’t yet arrived — led to a testy exchange in which a citizen asked a commissioner if he was insinuating that she was less intelligent, and he replied, “If I thought that you were less intelligent, I would just say it.”

More than any one thing in particular, these exchanges are completely oddball when compared to how regimented — and thus a bit soulless — meetings in other cities seem to be.

Although other places can have chaotic meetings, Lake Helen’s particular chaos always underscores the tightknit relationships between people, and how the government and citizenry interact in an ongoing conversation. It’s pretty fun.


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